Tuesday night the tandem of LeBron James and Anthony Davis debuted for the new-look Los Angeles Lakers against Kawhi Leonard and the new-look Los Angeles Clippers. Round 1 went to Kawhi and company as they knocked off the Lakers 112-102. In the process, James looked shaky and passive offensively. That must change if the Lakers are going to reach their lofty expectations this season.
James finished the opener with 18 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, one steal, one block and five turnovers in 36 minutes. The Lakers were also minus-8 when he was on the floor.
As he's done at times throughout his career, LeBron leaned on his jumper during the opener and saw extraordinarily poor results. He hit went just 7-of-19 from the field (36.8 percent) and was 1-of-5 on 3-pointers. James hasn't had a field goal percentage from the floor lower than 50 percent for a season since 2009, so it's a good bet he'll turn those opening night shooting woes around.
LeBron's touch from outside will improve. The pattern, however, is a bit disturbing. He's one of the greatest finishers in basketball history and when he leans on his ability at and around the rim, he can still reach elite status. But when he hangs on the perimeter and shoots fadeaway jumpers, he begins to show his age.
On Tuesday night, the Clippers baited James into shooting deep jumpers. They repeatedly played off of him, defending against the drive and daring him to shoot. He fell right into their trap and it was more evidence that its time for one of the greatest of all-time to alter his approach.
Yes, at 34 and in his 16th season, James needs to start posting up down low or solely focus on driving and distributing. A jumper is fine every now and then when he steps into it, but the move where he gives a few dribbles, shoulder shakes and fires a fadeaway from just inside the 3-point line is wildly inefficient. He hit just 33.9 percent of his 3-point attempts last season and we can imagine his percentage on long two-pointers was similar. That won't fly this year.
The thing is, LeBron has more efficient players around him this season. Anthony Davis posted a PER of 30.32 last year, while Danny Green hit 45.5 percent of his 3-point attempts. Quinn Cook, Troy Daniels, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Avery Bradley are all better deep shooters statistically than James. Those guys should be firing from deep, and LeBron's job should be to find them when he drives and gets doubled.
Yes, Kyle Kuzma missed Tuesday night's opener and it will be weeks before he's back and we truly know what the Lakers have. But it's clear James' game must evolve if he's going to have the ball in his hands as much as he did against the Clippers. He needs to focus on driving and distributing and not winging shots from deep.
The Lakers have a chance to do something special this season-- but only if LeBron plays smarter than he did Tuesday night.